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J Mol Biol. 1993 Mar 20;230(2):413-24.

Formation of a single base mismatch impedes spontaneous DNA branch migration.

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Genetics and Biochemistry Branch, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.


DNA branch migration, a process whereby two homologous DNA duplexes exchange strands, is an essential component of genetic recombination. Models for homologous recombination have invoked spontaneous branch migration as one mechanism for the generation of large regions of heteroduplex DNA. During recombination, two homologous parental duplexes that contain similar, but not identical, sequences are paired and undergo strand exchange. An important issue is whether spontaneous branch migration is capable of traversing sequence heterology such as mismatches, insertions and deletions. We use a model four-strand system to examine the effect of mispaired or unpaired bases on branch migration. The assay consists of annealing two short duplexes having defined sequence heterologies. Following annealing, a Holliday junction is formed that is free to branch migrate. Our results demonstrate that a single base mismatch, insertion or deletion is sufficient to pose a substantial barrier to spontaneous branch migration. In the presence of magnesium, branch migration through such sequence heterologies is almost completely blocked. Others have shown that non-mobile four-way junctions undergo a dramatic shift in conformation in the presence of magnesium. Our data suggest that a similar transition occurs for the mobile Holliday junction. We also discuss how proteins may facilitate branch migration through sequence heterologies in vivo.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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